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Experience the yin and yang of television with these DVDs

Date: 7/18/2011

July 18, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

This week’s DVD column features the yin and yang of television.

Omnibus: American Profiles

When I was a kid, “Omnibus” was exactly the kind of television that I avoided. Give me “The Lone Ranger” or “Soupy Sales” any day of the week.

But what do kids know?

I still like “The Lone Ranger” and “Soupy Sales” — what do adults know? — but watching the new two disc set of some of the best segments of this long-running series made me realize even more what a lazy, cheap and terrible medium mainstream television has become.

“Omnibus” ran on all three commercial networks during its long run in from 1952 to 1961. It was underwritten by the Ford Foundation, but supported with commercial advertisers. The show featured a wide selection of documentary films, performances and interviews. It was smart TV that didn’t come across as snooty.

This set features some great episodes. Host Alistair Cooke introduced and participated in many of the segments and the DVD includes Cooke interviewing author and cartoonist James Thurber. The collection also features several of the pieces focusing on classical music and conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

One of my favorite segments is one in which Dr. Seuss — Springfield’s own Theodor Geisel — hosts a talk about how he would design a science museum for children. The piece is funny and Geisel was charming as he spoke about a terrible science museum in “South Anthrax” that was dominated by dust and dead things. His recommendations were based on the then-new Boston Museum of Science.

I also enjoyed a filmed essay of the “night people” of New York City, the people who work at night and the people who stay out for the city’s diverse nightlife.

“Omnibus” was the type of show that in some ways was set up like a magazine. If one segment wasn’t appealing, wait a moment and another would be of interest.

Much of the show was produced live and it was broadcast before the advent of videotape. The quality of the images — taken from 16 mm films — is acceptable. The set comes with a booklet that adds additional background to the segments presented in the collection.

This is the type of television I wish we still had today.

The Girls Next Door: Season Six

Oh, where do I start? I would personally love to sit and talk with Hugh Hefner about a wide variety of topics — classic films, cartoonists, the publishing industry — but the subject of why a guy in his 80’s would want to “date” women in their 20’s wouldn’t come up — really.

The fact that Hefner is actually one of the most influential men in popular culture in the latter half of the 20th century has been over-shadowed by his successful attempt to re-energize the Playboy brand by allowing a “reality” series to portray a version of his life in which he is squiring about women young enough to be his granddaughters.

For a guy to be willing to allow his life to be shown as a freak show might be seen as sad to some and to others a testament of his willingness to promote his business.

In any event, this edition of the television series will undoubtedly not sell very well as it features a new cast of “girlfriends,” including the one who stood Hef up at the altar. Who wants to see a slow motion car wreck? We all know the tragic ending.

Who knows if there will be another series, as it will depend on the now 85 year-old publisher wants to assemble a new group of bubbleheads willing to pretend they like the old man enough to be his “girl.”

And this, my friends, is what television has become.

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